Heart Month – Women at Risk

February is American Heart Month, and not just because Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Since 1963 medical organizations like the American Heart Association have been promoting healthy heart behaviors and educating the public on the risk factors for heart disease. This year, the motivational force behind Heart Month and the Go Red for Women campaign is the staggering numbers at which women are affected by heart disease.

Heart disease takes the life of one woman every minute in the U.S. That’s more than 400,000 mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmas, and wives every year. While heart disease is the number one cause of death for women over the age of 40, most women don’t realize they are at risk until it’s too late. While many people correlate heart disease solely with men, the reality is that more women than men die of heart disease each year.

Heart Disease Symptoms

When individuals hear and see those heart disease numbers for the first time, the most common question becomes, “Why?” Unfortunately, even though heart disease is more prevalent in women than men, many of the symptoms and risk factors are highly over-looked by the medical community.

When a man heads to the emergency room with chest pains, trouble breathing, or sharp pains down his arm, a physician is trained to understand those are the signs of apatient having a heart attack. When a women heads to the emergency room with different symptoms, many times the correct diagnosis comes too late.

Heart Attack Symptoms in Men

Heart attack symptoms in men are well known and well documented. Nearly every man over the age of 40 knows the signs of a heart attack.

  • Chest pain or discomfort that can feel like a squeezing pain in the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes.
  • Discomfort of pain in one or both arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Abdominal discomfort


Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

Heart attack symptoms in women are less known and very different. According to the National Institute of Health, fewer than 30% of women who experienced a heart attack reported having chest pain or discomfort prior to the heart attack. An amazing 43% reported having no chest pain at all during any phase of the attack. However, 95% of women surveyed said that they knew their symptoms were new or different a month or more before experiencing their heart attack, according to About.com.

The women’s major symptoms prior to their heart attack included:

  • Unusual fatigue – 70%
  • Sleep disturbance – 48%
  • Shortness of breath – 42%
  • Indigestion – 39%
  • Anxiety – 35%

Major symptoms during the heart attack include:

  • Shortness of breath – 58%
  • Weakness – 55%
  • Unusual fatigue – 43%
  • Cold sweat – 39%
  • Dizziness – 39%


According to the MayoClinic, heart attack symptoms in women can include neck, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort, shortness of breath, nausea, sweating, dizziness, and unusual fatigue.

Menopause and Heart Disease

More and more studies are showing a link between menopause and heart disease. While menopause changes many aspects of a women’s body, some changes regarding the walls of blood vessels, level of fats in the blood, and increased fibrinogen levels can all play a key role in an increased risk for heart disease.

Heart Disease Prevention for Women

As we always suggest, speak to your concierge physician about your heart disease concerns. If there is a history of heart disease in your family, your doctor will need to know. He or she will also take a look at your medical history, diet, and nutritional values. And once a year your doctor will run a complete evaluation of your health, known as an executive physical, to determine your entire heart and cardiovascular health. These executive physicals are crucial for women over the age of 40.

There are steps you can take to lower your risk for heart disease, and like many other preventative techniques, speak to your physician regarding a plan of action. He or she will probably recommend things like hormone replacement, an exercise regiment, limiting alcohol and quitting smoking, maintaining an ideal body weight, a healthy diet, and perhaps medications to control conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.


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